#42 Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

28449127The blurb from author Kevin Hearne on the back cover of Lila Bowen’s Wake of Vultures reads: “I don’t care what else you’ve seen in the bookstore today. Buy this book.”

YES.

Wake of Vultures is a thoroughly kick-ass, relentlessly awesome book. It’s the first in the Shadow series featuring one of the most original characters I’ve read, the half black/half “Injun” boyish young girl Nettie Lonesome. Nettie is tough as nails; she swaggers, tames wild ponies, slays vampires and other beasties, and braves the dangers of the old west where nothing is quite what it seems and everything seems like it’s out to get her.

Bowen writes with verve, creating a gritty, fantastical world that is as fierce as it is fun. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book in the series: Conspiracy of Ravens.

#40 The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

2549385325489134The Bear and the Nightingale, the debut novel from Katherine Arden, grabbed me from page one.

It reads like a fairy tale, complete with a strong-willed girl, a horrid stepmother, a fear-mongering priest, pagan magic, forest demons and water sprites. This book isn’t for everyone.

But if you read that description and are thinking “sounds freaking awesome,” you will be enchanted. Beautifully written and well-paced, it’s a darkly captivating story set in medieval Russia about a young girl, Vasya, born with the sight. She sees spirits in her house and stables and creepy demons in the snowy woods that surround her village.

When a new priest arrives in the village and turns the community against the old ways, against making offerings to the spirits, the spirits get angry. Crops fail, hunger spreads, and winter lasts longer and longer. Young Vasya is called upon by the spirits and demons to right these wrongs, to do so sacrifices must be made.

This is the first book in what is bound to be a great trilogy; the next will be The Girl in the Tower. Also, a book cover and package can really sell a book or do it harm. I almost didn’t buy this book because of the cover, it reads too dark and too juvenile. I prefer the bright and tapestry-like UK cover (left/top) to the American version (right/bottom). Thoughts?

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#38 Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

616830Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred has long been on my to-read list.

Powerful and terrifying, the story follows Dana, a young black woman in 1970’s Los Angeles, who is “called” back to antebellum Maryland when her white ancestor, Rufus, almost drowns. She saves him and is returned to her own time, to her life as a writer, to the home where she lives with her white husband. Over the course of the novel she is summoned again and again to save this ancestor; she forms complicated relationships with Rufus and his parents who own the plantation, and with their slaves. Even though she saves this young white “master,” Dana herself is treated like a slave, forced into physical labor, threatened and physically abused.

The passages that take place on the plantation are stronger than those set in 1970’s Los Angeles, the characters are more developed, the story both brutal and riveting. Because the narrative is told from the vantage of a free, modern, educated black woman, the horrors of slavery are exposed with a modern lens, the cruelty of the white owners and the powerlessness of the slaves are juxtaposed with Dana’s loving and seemingly equal bi-racial marriage. Overall, a fascinating, fast-paced read.

#32 A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

29939230As I turned page 623 to the last paragraphs of V.E. Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light, I’ll admit that I got sad in my heart… sad to say goodbye to this wonderful series (this is the third of a trilogy, I wrote about books 1 and 2 here and here) and these great characters, sad to leave this magical world.

As a bookseller I snobbishly ignored the whole fantasy/sci-fi section in favor of literary fiction (hey, I was in my 20’s, I thought fiction was more, I don’t know, important); In the past year I’ve been delving into the fantasy genre more and more. And here’s the thing about fantasy (based on the books I’ve read thus far): They’re FUN. Remember reading for fun? Not for school, or book club, not for what reading a certain book says about you as a reader. For fun, because the book makes you happy.

This series made me happy. Highly entertaining, delightfully transporting, these books are the perfect escape. I don’t know about you, but at the current moment, escaping into a book, into a world woven with magic and mystery, sounds pretty awesome just about all the damn time.

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#29 The Magicians by Lev Grossman

6101718I expected to fly through The Magicians. The premise sounded so entertaining: A smart but lonely teenager discovers he’s a magician when he stumbles upon, auditions, and gets accepted into magician school where there’s no shortage of teenage intrigue, sexual tension, and MAGIC. Sounds fun, right?

I didn’t love it. And I didn’t fly through it.

About halfway through the book I found myself wanting the experience of reading it to be over, to know the ending and be done with it. Partly because of the selfish cluelessness of the main character, I just couldn’t muster the interest to care about what happened to him and his magician friends in the end. Meh.

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#23 Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

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When Richard Mayhew’s boring life in London gets turned inside out for helping a young girl named Door escape the two frightful men pursuing her, he is forced to go underground, literally, to survive. Following Door and her entourage through the tunnels and stations of the London underground, through secret doors and across haunted bridges, as she runs from those who hunt her and searches for the reason her family was murdered, Richard meets Rat-Speakers, murderers, fancy soul-sucking women, Black Friars, fallen angels, sewer-dwellers, and an assortment of other folks who live outside, underneath, beyond the realm of normal.

As the Neverwhere narrative twists and turns, and inverts on itself, I was continually charmed by the quirkiness of the characters, the path of the plot, and the layers of text and subtext that Gaiman weaves throughout. A thoroughly fun and entertaining book…

#18 A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

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This is the second in V.E. Schwab’s series about Kell, a youngish magician living in one of 4 Londons, who has the unique ability to travel and carry messages between them all, and Deliliah Bard, kick-ass pick-pocket and uniquely fun heroine.

These books are transporting, plot-driven, and just plain fun to read. Book #3 is already on my bedside table, waiting…

#17 A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

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When I was chatting with my friend Noelle’s husband about fantasy/sci-fi books (they’re his jam), he recommended I read Ursula Le Guin. A few days later I went to the bookstore and picked up the first in Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle trilogy, A Wizard of Earthsea. I think that had I been a 15 year-old boy and not a woman of 38, I would have connected with this book more than I did; Le Guin wrote it for a teenage audience and it does read like a YA book.

It’s the story of a young magician who, in an attempt to best his rival at magician school, unleashes a fearsome shadow into the world. In an attempt to escape the shadow he has called forth, he hones his powers, fights dragons, escapes the dangerous clutches of a beautiful queen, and embarks on an epic sea journey to the end of the world.

Though I didn’t love A Wizard of Earthsea, I’m interested in reading more Le Guin so I’m putting the next two Earthsea books and The Left Hand of Darkness on my to-read list.

#11 A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

22055262I discovered this trilogy by V.E. Schwab on Goodreads and loved the cover treatments so decided to give the books a try.

About the series, from V.E. Schwab’s website: “A fantasy series that takes place in a series of parallel Londons—where magic thrives, starves, or lies forgotten, and follows the last of a line of blood mages and a pickpocket from Georgian London as they combine forces to save the worlds—all of them.”

A Darker Shade of Magic (#1 in the series) is a rollicking good time of a book about a blood magician named Kell, and a kick-ass heroine pickpocket named Delilah. They join forces to defeat those out to destroy Kell and the London he inhabits. Time/space travel, political intrigue and evil plots, spells, adventure, and (you guys!) MAGIC.